Why You are Experiencing Headaches from Lack of Sleep

Have you ever experienced headaches in the morning when you wake up?

Well, like many other people who do not sleep well, you may be experiencing headaches from lack of sleep. Headaches due to insufficient or disrupted sleep, which is sometimes referred to as tension headaches, can linger for an hour to several hours.

This is another reason for us to underscore the importance of a good night’s sleep, which we all know from childhood but because of the demands of modern life, mostly professional, we tend to overlook it and relegate sleep to the back burner in pursuit of career success. A good night’s sleep is not only essential for general health and wellbeing but it is also important for repairing and rejuvenating the body naturally as well as boosting immunity.

The importance of a good night’s sleep
The importance of a good night’s sleep

The problem of sleep and headaches is not only about the sufficiency of sleep but also about the whole sleep experience and includes sleep patterns such the sleep schedule, the length of sleep, the sleep environment and the consistency.

Why do we have a headache from lack of sleep?

The body requires a certain minimum level of quality sleep within a certain period of time daily, therefore, a deficiency in this requirement will lead to headaches. Far less sleep leads to secretion of low levels of natural painkillers.

Many studies have proved the link between sleep deprivation and headaches. What is more telling, even small disruptions during sleep can cause these regular headaches and even migraines for others.

In a study about pain conducted by researchers at Missouri State University, and led by Paul L. Durham, PhD test rats deprived of REM sleep experienced changes in production of key proteins responsible for suppressing and triggering pain. It showed that sleep-deprived rats secreted high levels of nervous system activating proteins and low levels of proteins to reverse it. His conclusion was that stressful situations like sleep deprivation can lead to high secretion of nervous system arousing proteins which trigger pain- that is how the headaches arise.

A study of people who suffer from migraines found that half attributed their headaches to sleep disturbances while those who averaged only 6 hours of sleep per night experienced more frequent and severe headaches as compared to those who slept longer.

Generally, headaches are also linked to sleep disorders which are often the cause of sleep disruptions and thus lack of sleep. Sleep disorders like circadian rhythm disorder, insomnia and sleep apnea are common with people who are diagnosed with frequent or morning headaches.

Headaches are also linked to sleep disorders
Headaches are also linked to sleep disorders

Additionally, people with headaches also have a hard time sleeping which makes it even difficult to manage the headaches. Therefore, several nights of insufficient sleep leads to more headaches and pain.

Sleep disruption is the leading cause of headaches and migraines with about 12% of Americans experiencing migraines and headaches as a result of lack of sleep.

Read more:  14 Proven Stress Relief Management Activities

What to do to avoid morning headaches

It is important that everyone gets enough sleep, especially those who are already dealing with headaches as a result of insufficient sleep. Setting a regular sleep routine and sticking to it is very important to combat these headaches- sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time daily.

Further, for those who have been diagnosed with sleep disorders, it is important to properly manage and treat these conditions so that your sleep is not disrupted and to enable you to achieve the optimum length and depth of sleep.

Here are some sleeping disorders which can disrupt your sleep and cause you headaches:

  • Insomnia- Refers to lack of sleep due to the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea- Interference with breathing and oxygen intake due to abnormal snoring or heavy breathing while sleeping. This usually leads to oxygen deficiency in the brain while sleeping.
  • Sleep bruxism- The grinding and clenching of teeth during sleep and is linked to stress and triggers headaches.
  • Restless leg syndrome- Characterized by intense pin and needle sensation while sleeping with the urge to move them for relief.
  • Circadian rhythm disorder- This is where the bodies internal clock is disrupted thus causing sleep disruptions. This is common when traveling to different time zones.

Do the following for sufficient sleep and to avoid headaches:

Make your sleep environment conducive to sleep

Make your sleep environment conducive to sleep
Make your sleep environment conducive to sleep

Ensure that your bedroom is well organized for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool- not hot nor cold. At bedtime, ensure that you block of loud noises for maximum quiet, ensure that all light is blocked out, and keep the place neatly arranged and clean. Visual distractions and clutter are a common cause of anxiety and stress which will disrupt sleep.

Use comfortable bedding and the right mattress

Use a good mattress which is not too hard nor too soft to support your weight for comfort while sleeping. Use well ventilated and warm bedding as well as a pillow for maximum comfort. The best mattress should be well ventilated and cooling to support your weight evenly and relieve pressure points.

Have a consistent sleep schedule

Predictability and consistency are important for good quality sleep. Ensure that you sleep for the recommended sleep duration of between 6 to 9 hours consistently to reduce or eliminate the headaches.

Keep away from drinks and stimulants around bedtime

There are stimulants which you must avoid at least 3 to 4 hours before you go to bed. Beverages with caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine have been proven to interfere with sleep and in some cases lead to a total lack of sleep which is a risk factor for headaches.

Drinks close to bedtime also lead to night trips to the toiles which disrupts sleep. Drink enough water throughout the day and cut intake 2 hours to bed so that you do not have to wake up.


If you have been experiencing abnormal headaches in the morning after waking up or during the day, and they are regular or persistent, the first step is to visit a doctor for an examination and diagnosis to pin down the exact cause of the problem.

If you are found to be suffering from headaches from lack of sleep, you will need to adopt the tips suggested in this article in addition to any other treatment that is recommended by a physician. The secret to good quality sleep is simply the right duration of sleep and keeping consistent with your sleep schedule.

Modifying your sleep habits wholesomely from the sleeping environment to the time you sleep is the way to go. Get more insights here:

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